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Butler: Outward thinking Saputo feels best is yet to come

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Noel Butler, TSN.ca
5/25/2013 4:34:08 PM
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As the Impact continue to impress winning over new admirers to the cause, the summer football road promises much for a club who are no longer be tagged as Major League Soccer's newest franchise.

That moniker is now the exclusive domain of the $100 million New York City FC… stadium not included.

From his office overlooking the pitch, Montreal Impact club President Joey Saputo must feel a mixture of relief and quiet contentment following an off season which saw a complete overhaul of the coaching staff and significant new investment into the talent pool.

The club solidifying their position amongst the leading playoff contenders is one thing, but it's the manner of the Impact's performances that excites Stade Saputo partisans.

“Going into the 10 games that we've played having a record of six wins, two losses and two draws and winning the first two games on the road it's obvious that we need to be pleased with that,” Saputo told TSN.ca soon after his squad left the field of play following a highly spirited 90-minute training session on their home turf earlier this week.

“The other points we needed to improve on from last year was giving up goals in the last 10 minutes of games. Not giving up goals on free kicks and set plays,” he added. “I think we've done a good job from that stand point too.”

“So overall I know it's still quite early in the season but from where we were last year to this we're very satisfied with that,” Saputo concluded.

In his 20 years at the helm Saputo is neither the type to shirk responsibility nor debate the tough decisions.

The philosophy requires he operate first and foremost from a base of thorough due diligence.

Then he must in turn provide the adequate resources to ensure improving performance and greater levels of production all the way along the success curve. The long run is always uppermost in mind.

An Economics graduate you could say Saputo has applied economic principle in a soccer setting.

Very much in the mold of the hands-on owner, Saputo knows fully well the reasoning behind the incredible turnaround from their debut season to this. The Impact have accumulated almost twice as many points as they had at the 10-game mark in 2012 .

“I think you take a look at the players. You take look at the camaraderie. You take a look at the way the players have adapted and responded well to the coaching change that we made during the off season.”

“Not only to Marco [Schallibaum], but also to [assistant coaches] Mauro [Biello] and to Philippe [Eullaffroy], and also to Paulo [Pacione], our strength and conditioning coach who has done a tremendous job being able to bring back Youssef as our goal keeper coach.”

“So, overall, off the field I think that that's probably the most important aspect.”

The layers of significant benefits to be reaped for both the league and the clubs individually is not lost on Saputo following Tuesday's announcement that a second New York-based franchise will enter the league in only 18 months' time.

“You know, when you get an organization like Manchester City who wants to invest in the development of soccer in North America not only financially by bringing in the franchise but also by putting up what is going to be a state of the art soccer specific stadium, I think it's great for the league. It's great for the direction we're going.”

Saputo doesn't view this as the end of the expansion process. Instead, perhaps it's the start of something on a more global scale.

“This may open the door for more international teams that want to have their foot in the door in North America, either in Canada or the United States.”

The Impact President was effusive in his praise for the work done by the man who since his time in office has overseen growth of this unprecedented magnitude, the likes of which no one could have predicted.

“Commissioner Garber [has] said he's been working on a second team in New York for quite some time and I'm excited. I'm happy for the commissioner that he was able to make this a reality. I think the second team in New York is going to be a great rival to the Red Bulls and I think that it could only help develop our game here in North America.”

The effect of an additional club joining the league leaves Saputo extremely happy the Impact can no longer be viewed as the last one invited to North America's grandest-ever soccer party.

“Obviously you don't want to be the last guy in and we were the last guy in knowing that Vancouver and Portland paid a little less than what we did.”

“The fact we were able to get the franchise price that the league ended up getting, the fact that it's Manchester City coming in … it's credibility on our part, and it's credibility for the franchise in New York.”

Saturday evening's match at Saputo Stadium against the Philadelphia Union will be the setting for the second time this season the club pays homage to another of its championship teams. This time it's the turn of the 2004 A-League champions.

Celebrations are one thing, but it's the three points on offer to which Saputo attaches the primary importance.

“Philadelphia is just a couple points behind us and [we] want to create some distance between us and them as we move forward, so the game itself is important.”

The game itself will also allow Impact supporters to welcome back onto the pitch one of the most consistent-performing team members to date. A man who - due to the role he has so admirably filled - is not often, or ever in the headlines.

He was though splashed all over the headlines the last time the Impact played, his nose fractured in six places following a face first collision with Jordan Harvey during the May 15 Amway Championship Final opening leg versus the Whitecaps.

Jeb Brovsky - the footballer, community activist and humanitarian - is not lost one bit on his club president.

“When you talk about having the player with the right mentality, both on and off the field, Jeb is the type of player that you can easily associate that with.”

“He's a warrior. That word was used quite a bit last week,” Saputo continues. “He definitely is a warrior, but beyond what he gives us on the field, what he does off the field is tremendous.”

“He has engaged himself within the Montreal community. He loves it here. He's well-viewed, he's embraced his time here in Montreal, and I think this is a guy that I think becomes a great ambassador for this organization and what this organization stands for. So, kudos to him.”

“It's unbelievable what he's done in the short time he's been here.”

Part of tonight's festivities will be the unveiling of the Impact's 20th Anniversary cake. Created by an Impact supporter, the winning design is such a closely guarded secret the club's president is not even aware of what the cake looks like.

“I didn't see the winning design for the cake, so it will be interesting to see what it's going to look like, but it's fun.”

It's this season's on-field performance Saputo returns to. Although mindful of this season's historical significance, the economist in him fully acknowledges it's a results driven business.

“Again, one of the things that we've always stated [is that] we could have done a lot more when we talk about the 20th anniversary, but we decided to be a little bit more discreet.”

“I think the important thing is the game itself and not necessarily everything outside of the game.”

The full conversation with Joey Saputo is available in the podcast section over at TSN.ca/MLS – additional material includes Saputo's thoughts on Wednesday's crucial second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship Final, International exhibition games update and summer transfer window plans.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:

Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca

@TheSoccerNoel on Twitter

Joey Saputo and Patrice Bernier (Photo: Francois/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Francois/Getty Images)
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